Desktop Menu

Mobile Menu

White Elephants and Giraffe Onesies: A Holiday Tale About the Gifts of Advisory

White Elephants and Giraffe Onesies: A Holiday Tale About the Gifts of Advisory
Caroline Hoffman

By: Peter Findler

Upper School Director of the Courtesies

Upper School History Teacher and Department Chair


At Wakefield, advisors are advocates for the academic, social, and emotional health of the small group of students in their charge.  They are the first point of contact with parents and teachers, and, ideally, serve as the “go to” person on campus for their advisees.  There is no set curriculum for advisory.  Rather, it is a flexible and responsive approach where the advisor can help problem-solve issues before and as they arise.  

Advisories meet for 10 minutes per day, five times per week when the schedule allows.  But in the end, the Wakefield advisory is not a time or a place, it is a relationship.

Recently, I gathered with my Senior advisory for our last holiday party after a four-year journey together.  We decided to do a “white elephant” gift exchange whereby each one of us would bring a gift that costs less than $20.  To start, the gifts were all placed on a table, and we took turns choosing from the pile in order according to numbers drawn from a hat.  When it came time to choose, each participant could either take a wrapped gift from the table or “steal” a gift that had previously been chosen.  If one’s gift was stolen, he or she would then automatically take a turn to choose a new, wrapped gift, or steal a previously chosen gift.  The process would continue until everyone had a gift to take home at the end of it all.  

The best part of our gift exchange came on Ethan’s turn.  He opened a box and unfolded an article of clothing that, as it turned out, was intended as a gag gift: an adult-sized giraffe onesie complete with a mane and a tail.  Without blinking, Ethan, the quietest and most ardent introvert among us, slipped off his shoes and shimmied the onesie over his uniform into a tight, very uncomfortable fit.  We joyously cheered him on as he contorted his body and forced himself into the ridiculous costume. 

As I sat there, I couldn’t help but notice the big round smiles and hearty guffaws that had engulfed the room.  I caught myself thinking back to our first days meeting each other, four years ago when they were freshmen in high school and I was a freshman teacher at Wakefield.  I was reminded of our fears, our hopes, our desires, our needs at that time.  I was reminded of how hard it was for them to meld together at first, and how it took a long time to get to the place where they felt comfortable with one another.  Four years later, there we were, laughing together in a beautiful, spontaneous moment of holiday happiness.  Eventually, Ethan won the war with the onesie and proudly sat down to enjoy his gift.  That was until it was stolen by Garrett, of course.

As with many other Wakefield advisors before me, I can now look back on the years and feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when I consider what has transpired.  There is no doubt that, in learning to be an advisor, I have made mistakes.  I have tried different approaches and strategies, all with mixed results.  But from where I sit now, I am thankful for the gifts that my experience as an advisor has given me, both material and otherwise.  And when I consider the work that is continuously being done by my fellow advisors and homeroom teachers, I am in awe of how special this community is.  

As for the gift exchange, I wound up with a set of two fondue mugs.  Thanks, Thomas.  I guess I could say it was a fitting present as I reflected on the melting pot that my advisory had become.  I can’t wait to start over again next year and “dip” into the newest crop of Wakefield freshmen and repeat the process all over again.